Purpose and Social Impact as Differentiators in the Job Market
September 6, 2022
In 2022, when college graduates enter the job market for the first time, the highest-performing, most attractive candidates have options that may not have been historically available. Suppose a Cal Tech artificial intelligence and machine learning student surveys their options post-graduation. They’re likely to find that their skillset and educational profile are in extremely high demand and there is no shortage of start-ups, big tech, or financial services firms lining up with job offers.
The story is the same regardless of industry or area of expertise: the competition for the highest performers with the most desirable skillset is fierce. The reason is apparent, but the difference between a high performer and others is significantly starker than you might think.
A 2017 McKinsey study found that high performers are a staggering 800% more productive than even average performers in highly complex and interaction-intensive roles – software developers or project managers, for example. It’s a figure so prominent that it looks like a typo.
These high-performing business professionals from all walks of life can be found everywhere. They have various skills and educational backgrounds, making them attractive candidates for roles up and down the corporate ladder. Over time, the competitiveness of the job market has tended to skew in employers’ favor when hiring, but it’s clear that the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction—or, at least, the equation is more balanced than it’s historically been.
I’ve heard senior executives lament that their brightest young team members leave for other organizations, that loyalty is nonexistent, and that these up-and-comers are just corporate mercenaries willing to work for whoever pays more and offers the best perks. There’s certainly a kernel of truth in that.
People with business-critical or difficult-to-find skills and expertise are increasingly in the driver’s seat as top firms compete for top talent. The reality is that the differences in compensation, benefits, and perks between Apple and Google or Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase are typically minimal. Suppose one company offers a candidate a base salary, bonus, and benefits that are only marginally different from the offer another organization puts on the table. What will that candidate base their decision on?
The differentiating factor is often the alignment between the candidate’s values and the stated purpose and mission of the organization relative to competitors. Per McKinsey survey data, 70% of employees tend to define their sense of purpose at work, meaning that organizations that allow their team members to define and express their values and intent on the job have a leg up on the competition.
A PwC survey of job candidates found that 71% rate employer reputation as more important than the corporate brand when considering a new role. The same study reported that 72% of C-suite job seekers were more likely to apply for a position with an organization openly committed to improving their workforce’s diversity and inclusion.
So what can the conscientious organization do to attract and – critically – retain the best talent?
1. Define and communicate your organizational purpose. FINN Partners was founded on purpose by our CEO, Peter Finn. His vision was of an organization defined by its commitment to make a difference in the world and, and that’s what he’s built. There’s a reason why FINN Partners was recently shortlisted for 12 PRWeek Purpose awards, including Purpose Agency of the Year and Most Purposeful Agency Professional for Peter himself. We don’t obscure our values or how they inform our business practices and the clients we take on—quite the opposite. As a result, we tend to attract like-minded people to join our and ranks, building our capabilities and a thriving community.
It’s a model that other organizations can follow; lean into and articulate the thinking behind your corporate purpose, social impact, environmental responsibility, and diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments. Be open during the recruitment process and present it as part of the whole package should a candidate accept your offer.
2. Encourage employees to find and express purpose during working hours. The same McKinsey study referenced earlier found that 63% of people surveyed want their employer to provide more opportunities for purpose in their day-to-day work. In truth, that takes a little bit of bravery. It’s not always easy to encourage the free expression of ideas and values at work. By their very nature, workplaces are environments where diverse ideologies must coexist.
Because expressing personally held beliefs may risk upheaval or create some discomfort, the temptation might be to encourage people to participate in championing causes they support outside of working hours. However, it’s far more powerful when organizations commit to finding opportunities during the 9-5 grind for people to do meaningful work and have purpose-based conversations. That’s when employees feel most heard and most able to contribute to societal good.
3. Get management buy-in and stick with it. Directives from the C-suite are critical. They set the tone for the entire organization. However, without buy-in from frontline managers, director-level employees, and others in day-to-day team leadership positions, even the most committed CEO will find that their organization isn’t delivering on purpose-driven initiatives. It requires constant employee engagement and communication, not only about why it’s a moral imperative to engage on societal and environmental import issues but also why it’s an economically sound business strategy.
As my colleague Betsy Henning, managing partner and Employee Engagement Practice Lead at FINN Partners, put it, “When people feel heard, they know they matter, and then they roll up their sleeves. But you can see that the onus in on managers to set the tone.”
We face the fundamental challenge perfectly captured in a 2021 study from Buck Global showing 58% of employees do not trust senior management to look out for their best interests and that 42% believe their leadership is out of touch with the reality workers have experienced during the pandemic. It’s a reality that should give us all pause.
But we can also pair this with the positive implications of research conducted by Paul Zak, the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, which found employees in high-trust companies reported 50% higher productivity, 76% more engagement, 40% less burnout, and more than double the energy they bring to their jobs compared to workers in low-trust organizations. It is clear. The trust lacking today is a giant obstacle, but trust gained moving forward can be a game-changing multiplier.
When managers understand the dual benefits of tangible societal impact and improved economic viability for the purpose-based organization, they’re more likely to champion the C-suite’s priorities across and through the company.
The market for top talent is more competitive than ever, and organizations can’t afford to leave any stone unturned as they seek to attract the best and brightest. Offering a competitive salary, solid benefits, and attractive perks are expected. When companies lean into purpose and social impact, that’s where real differentiation is possible and where purpose-driven firms distinguish themselves. Give people an opportunity to make a difference in the world. Help them leave a lasting impact. You’ll be rewarded.